Economic life of Malay Muslims in southernmost Thailand amidst ecological changes and unrest

Bundhuwong, Chalita
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2013]
The economic life of rural Malay Muslims in Kampong Ai Hetae in southernmost Thailand is examined. The affects of the politics of Thai state development on the ecosystem is explored together with local farming practices and resource uses amidst ecological changes, the market economy, conflict and violence. This dissertation also relates agriculture to other dimensions of rural transformation to understand economic life. The dissertation research revealed that economic development in the region has aimed to stabilize Thai nation-state ideology under the assumption that poverty is the main cause of the civil unrest. However, the development, which aims to incorporate Malay Muslim identity and ignores ecological values and the meaningful participation of local residents, has not been successful in suppressing the unrest nor in improving the economic life. Local residents have adapted farming practices to try to continue to use the changing ecological system and also to pursue new economic incentives. While trying to cope with unsupportive development and intermittent violence, the local residents face many serious risks all alone. The use of chemicals in farming and conflicts over common resources seem unavoidable. Agriculture is the foundation for households to gain better opportunities in the non-farm sector in the face of the rural transformations in the region. Modern lifestyle and consumption can't be separated from investment in farming. The intensification of Islam strengthened by the robust commercial farming in turn shapes the community's political power reproducing the failure of development. The local economic life is full of ups and downs although not destitute. However, increasing pressure on the land with population growth is unsustainable even with increasing involvement in non-farm activities, and it will bring more difficulties in the future. Even if development were sustainable and the rural poor could cultivate new skills, education, and networks for employment in non-farming jobs, the quality of life of local residents will still be depreciated if the conflicts continue in the south. Quality of life is not only economic, but also ecological, cultural, and political, and it will be diminished as long as the development is under the Thai nation-state ideology.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
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